An Interview With Julianne Aiello Of Outdoor Yoga SF
By Dana Lee
Practicing yoga with Julianne Aiello feels like warm sunshine spreading happiness inside your heart. As one of San Francisco’s most popular yoga teachers, she has grown a large following of people from all over the Bay Area to experience the light of her Silent Disco Yoga events and yoga retreats. Julie creates inclusive transformative yoga experiences that invite you to revel in the joys of nature, the simplicity of life, and the healing sounds of music. She nurtures spiritual awareness, physical health, connectedness, and an appreciation for life in everything she does. In January, Julie taught at the widely acclaimed Yoga Journal Live! San Francisco for the first time. I’ve been lucky to roll my mat out on the sparkling sand at Baker Beach to experience Juli’s teaching and also to share in one of her yoga celebrations in downtown San Francisco. Each time I am in her class, feelings of satisfaction linger for days. I was happy to interview Julie and find out more about what makes her yoga shine.
What was it like to be a teacher at Yoga Journal Live! San Francisco?
It was so fun! And a great privilege, too! It’s so important for me not to be attached to the “outcome” of the class, or the number of people in attendance because that is ever changing. I felt I shared a class that was super authentic (including playing the harmonium for the first time in a big group!) while still doing something very untraditional - teaching with headphones, dancing in class, and singing. The lesson is that people want more connection, more release, more freedom to move in a way that really feels like their own choosing. They need more places to connect in healthy, supportive, and non-judgmental environments.
If you keep showing up to share authentically and work hard to make it happen, good things will happen. It’s not an “if”, it’s “when." It might take a little while to build. Be patient. The revolution is coming and we should all be part of it.
How has yoga changed your life?
Yoga has changed my life in almost every way. Once you begin to practice yoga, you realize it’s not just a practice on the mat, it’s a way of life. Most importantly, it’s transformed my inner conversation. It’s also transformed my relationships with myself and with my family. I think (I hope!) I have more patience and compassion for all of us now.
How long have you been practicing yoga, and who are your mentors and greatest teachers?
I have been practicing meditation since I was 14, and became a regular yoga practitioner in my early 20s. I first got really into meditation, and then yoga came afterwards. One of my greatest teachers is my Grandma. Her presence is so full. She is an Italian grandma with a big personality and a great sense of humor. And she's also a great listener. She's endlessly curious about me and my life, even though I know it's hard to understand sometimes and it's so different than hers growing up. She's grateful. She has a way of making people feel understood and supported, always. with anything. She makes you feel this unspoken sense that life is always going to work out. Some of the other influential teachers in my life are of course my parents, all of my friends. Many have been experienced through reading as well.
Today, I still make spiritual reading a regular part of my every morning. Before I check social media or do anything at all, I read from the Yoga Sutras while my mind is clear. I started reading Thich Nhat Hanh in high school and still turn to his writings for simplicity and inspiration. “Peace is Every Step”, is one of my favorites. Mary Oliver, the poet who writes so elegantly on nature, Elizabeth Gilbert, for her courage and responsiveness to help navigate social-political climate, Seane Corn, for her incredible leadership as a yoga teacher and social activist, Stephanie Snyder here in San Francisco for her presence, guidance and graceful infusing of the sacred texts into her teachings. Also, Gabby Bernstein, Tony Robbins, and Wayne Dyer. One of the most impactful things I’ve heard from these leaders is the reminder that we all share the capacity for greatness and we will all absolutely "fail" in somethingthing. And that one thing I’ve learned beyond what we were taught in school: that evil lies within all of us as part of the human condition; but also that pure light, greatness, bravery, courage, deep love lies within all of us too. Now I read about people like Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., the leaders at Standing Rock and see that light in me also.
What is your dream?
Such a great question. I think part of dreaming is believing in what you don’t see, right? I’ll tell you what my dream was as a kid, perhaps that will shine a light on my dream now. My dream then was to have a nature adventure oasis in my backyard, a tree house with Tarzan ropes leading into a pool, a slide coming off the top of the house to land on a trampoline, and a treehouse and teepee to rest in and take naps. It’s kind of wild but teaching outside on the beach, it feels very much like a dream. I think because I found solace in yoga at a time when I really wasn’t sure where to turn. I thought yoga was “for spiritual people only”, or for people who really want to focus on themselves and “dig deep.” Yoga is really for everyone, and you can make it your own. I am completely in love with yoga philosophy and can’t get enough. My dream is really what I’m doing exactly right now: to create space for people where they feel welcomed and surprised by an experience that inspires them for days and weeks to come. I want them to know that they in fact deserve time to play, explore new ways of moving, and can give their busy minds a rest. I hope to inspire people to feel as if “I want to take this kindness, patience, and grace off my mat and into my life. I want to be more patient with my kids and my partner.” That’s my dream. And that is very much happening. I would love to expand this dream and my work to continue to share this experience in intimate ways on small retreats, with big communities around California, and perhaps around the world.
How important is it to develop and maintain a personal yoga practice?
Super important, and it’s important to remember that the physical yoga practice is just one piece of it; practicing yoga comes up all day, in all forms. It’s important for me spiritually. Whatever I’m dealing with that day, breathing and moving on my mat bring my mind and body into equanimity in a way that nothing else can. It doesn’t fix, but it reshapes my perspective, and chemically changes me. My relationship with myself is more honest, real, aware and compassionate when I am practicing yoga. I am a better partner, daughter, friend, sister and teacher when I practice. So, there is no option really, other than my daily yoga practice.
What is the takeaway that you hope for your students who participate in your classes?
I hope my students walk away feeling like they have a home and feel safe. I want them to find a sacred space on their mat, or wherever they are practicing yoga, meditation and being still. I hope that they feel this practice warms them like a big cozy blanket and is here always, without judgement. I hope they feel reconnected with their own grace, strength, and peace, to the deepest part of themselves that is only love. That part that is grounded, unwavering, and steady in love. And that they have the freedom to realign to what most serves us here and now, and leave the rest. And to know they have the freedom to change and grow.
What are your goals over the next few years?
Again, another great question. I tend to think in chunks of a few months at a time rather than years. At this point in my life, I’m super grateful to be able to wake up and say, is this the most important work I can be doing today? And is this really what I want to be doing? Not necessarily in every moment, but on the whole. So, one of my goals is to keep answering that question with a “yes” and to keep veering in the direction that feels the truest to my heart.
If you could write a few words of advice to people who are just starting on their yoga journey, what would they be?
Keep. Going. There will be times of great discomfort in life, whether you practice yoga or not. The same is true in yoga, there will be moments of discomfort, of training the mind and body to present. Of perhaps frustration that you’re not “getting” the pose yet. It is all coming, and the more you practice, the more relief you will find. The more freedom and ease you will find. I promise. Oh, and read the sacred yoga texts. Definitely, read the Yoga Sutras. It will change your life.
How do you stay so positive day to day?
Interacting with people daily. Either going to yoga or teaching. I often have yoga dates with friends where I get in a little time before or after class to connect. Even if I go to yoga by myself, I am in community. I feel connected. We are fundamentally designed to connect with others. Even though my ideal day I am spending most of the day alone, a connection is absolutely still very essential.
How would you like to be remembered?
Thank you for asking such a beautiful question. I would love to be remembered as what I believe is the highest version of me: a compassionate, giving, passionate person that always took time for the most important things in life - family, friends, yoga, and rest, and did the best that she could to help others.
Visit www.outdooryogasf.com to learn more about Julianne Aiello and how you can join one of her Silent Disco Beach Yoga classes. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram to stay connected to all of her events and loving energy.